Helping Hands in Discussions With City to Manage Safe Rest Village in Southwest Portland

The nonprofit runs the Bybee Lakes Hope Center at the former Wapato Jail.

Helping Hands, the nonprofit that runs the Bybee Lakes Hope Center at the former Wapato Jail, is in discussions with the city to run the safe rest village planned at the Jerome F. Sears Army Reserve Center in Multnomah Village in Southwest Portland.

Alan Evans, CEO and founder of Helping Hands, was introduced by the safe rest villages team as a likely operator of the Multnomah Village site at a meeting tonight of the team, City Commissioner Dan Ryan, and neighbors surrounding the location.

Evans, who was formerly homeless before he started the nonprofit, stressed his intention and hope to run the village. Evans promised one thing in particular: neighborhood safety.

“We’ve always worked well with neighbors. Public safety is just as important as serving the people who need our help the most. We’ve built our reputation off of that,” Evans said. “We’re negotiating through contracts exactly what that’s going to look like, but if we get this opportunity to run this village, it will be safe.”

The impending selection of Helping Hands as a contractor is significant for two reasons. First, the Multnomah Neighborhood Association last week demanded that City Hall scuttle its plans for a Southwest Portland rest village and redirect the money to Helping Hands for Bybee Lakes, which it runs. Second, the shelters that Helping Hands is best known for running use different criteria for entry than what Ryan and his colleagues have promised.

Helping Hands runs 11 facilities in Oregon, including Bybee Lakes, which currently shelters 80 people but is adding capacity to accommodate over 300 soon. Some of their programs have strict rules for participants: They must be clean and sober during the duration of their stay, be employed, and participate in community service.

Ryan has emphasized that the six safe rest villages will be low-barrier shelters, where participants do not need to be sober or drug-free during their stay.

The first question from a neighbor during the Thursday meeting was whether the safe rest village, if run by Helping Hands, would be run like Bybee Lakes: People would be required to be clean and sober, be employed and partake in community service.

Evans suggested the answer was no. “We run two elements of our program,” he said. “Our long-term reentry program is a high-barrier program that requires all of those things. We also have a low-barrier entry into our facilities, which gives us an opportunity to look a little deeper into offering an extended amount of time for navigation.”

One neighbor asked whether a resident of the village can be evicted.

“It’s not an eviction, it is a shelter. But if a person is violent, if they’re a risk to the safety of the facility or outside of the facility, absolutely,” Evans said, who added earlier there would be rules. “People get an opportunity, but people have to behave.”

There’s no timeline yet for when the site will open. Bryan Aptekar, who handles communications for the project, told WW earlier this week that land surveys are being completed before permits can be requested from city bureaus.

One neighbor asked if the neighborhood would have any say in the final decision of the siting of the village. Jake Dornblaser, community engagement coordinator for the project, said the city is moving forward with the site.

“So really, our opinion isn’t going to impede you in any way or deter you from proceeding with this location?” the woman asked.

“We’re engaging the community with what it will look like, not whether we will use the site,” Dornblaser said.

The U.S. Department of Defense gave City Hall the former Army Reserve training center in 2012 for emergency management. It was used as a temporary homeless shelter in 2015 and 2016. Since then, it’s been used sparingly for first responder training and as a staging area for construction.

Neighbors have challenged the city on whether the safe rest village fits the intended use of the property. The city has replied that the Portland City Council permitted rezoning of properties for exactly this housing emergency.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is currently reviewing the project proposal.

This article was published with support from the Jackson Foundation, whose mission is: “To promote the welfare of the public of the City of Portland or the State of Oregon, or both.”